Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Tempeh Taco Salad: A Photo Essay

Tempeh is a fantastic food that can take a little getting used to. This is a great way to introduce yourself to it. Here is what you will need (this is all flexible based on your preferences):

Tempeh Taco Salad
Lettuce, tomatoes, avocado, cilantro, salsa, beans, 1/4 large onion, 1/4 large red bell pepper, 8 oz tempeh, 2 tbsp chili powder (2 parts ancho, 1 part chipotle, 1 part mild California), 1 tsp oregano, 1 1/2 tsp cumin, 1 vegan bouillon cube or 1 tsp concentrated bouillon, 8 oz tomato sauce or soup (I used some leftover Tomato & Roasted Red Pepper Soup that needed using).

This is the tempeh available in my area. Larger health food stores will have a variety of flavors or varieties such as flax or multi-grain. If you are feeling adventurous you can make your own. I will be adventurous at some point. This package says it is 2 servings, but I have a hard time eating an entire half because it is so filling, and in recipes like this one you can easily serve 3 or 4 people with 8 oz.

A bit about tempeh. It is a fermented soy bean patty which is a whole food. When I say fermented, don't think pickles, think cheese. That is the best way I can think to explain it, even though the flavor is really not much like cheese at all. It has a unique, fairly strong flavor that can be a bit of an acquired taste. Because it is a fermented product the protein is easier for us to digest. The black and gray bits are a normal and safe part of the product. Unlike many fermented foods, tempeh really should be cooked.

Tempeh is made by culturing cooked soybeans with a specific kind of mold. Eventually the mold binds all the beans together into a dense patty. If you break a piece off the block you can see the delicate webbing of the mold.  

Texturally, tempeh crumbles easily but also holds its texture when cooked, making it a great stand-in for ground meat in highly seasoned dishes, such as chili and tacos. You can use a hand grater or, if you are grating several packages, use the grating disk in your food processor. If any large chunks remain simply break them up with your fingers. It is a fairly dry food, so if you are not using it in a stew type dish you'll want to add some moisture into it at some point.

Start the chopped onion in a hot skillet over medium heat with a teaspoon of neutral oil a minute before you add the tempeh. Once the onion has started to soften add the tempeh and stir to combine. Add 1-2 more teaspoons of oil to help the tempeh brown and prevent sticking. Continue to stir frequently. Once the tempeh has taken on some color add the spices, bouillon, tomato sauce, and a sprinkle of salt. Stir to coat evenly and cook another minute or two until it starts to look less wet. Remove from heat.

Finished tempeh taco filling.

Building on a base of chopped lettuce (romaine here) add a quarter of your tempeh and a half cup of cooked beans (here we have Cuban black beans mixed with a few pintos - great way to use leftovers).

Then add your chopped pepper and tomato. If tomatoes are not in season don't bother, just use extra salsa

Finally, top with chopped avocado, cilantro, and salsa. Consume.

There you have it - a yummy, simple, low-fat, high fiber meal for those days you have Mexican food cravings but don't need the deep fried heaviness. You can of course use the tempeh filling to make regular tacos as well. It is a much healthier, less processed alternative to "burger crumbles" or even re-hydrated TVP for well spiced dishes (the spices help mask the flavor of the tempeh, which might make it easier for those unfamiliar with the product to enjoy it). Look for more ways to use tempeh in future posts.


Jen Treehugger said...

I'm so glad you posted about making your own Tempeh, why I hadn't thought of making my own before now is a mystery.
I will read the instructions with great glee.

All those photos look delish I could so eat that right now.
It looks awesome!

Unknown said...

This looks delish! Although I think you forgot to dedicate this dish to me -- let's not forget who asked you for tempeh recipes;) Cheers!

Bethany said...

making your own tempeh is very adventurous! I've made tofu by hand before and it was good.

the taco salad looks really good. I just love mexican food.